Long before an expansive network of interstates and highways cut across America, a network of trails were formed and traversed by the Cherokee. Like today’s interstate system, the Cherokee trails ran north to south, east to west. The trails were used for trade, hunting, gathering, and to make war against opposing tribes and settlers that wanted their land.
Marking those trails were trail trees—hardwood trees whose trunks were intentionally bent to grow low and parallel to the ground before rising upward again. Like today’s highway signs, researchers believe the Cherokee shaped trees to point to things that their people needed on long and arduous journeys.
Sometimes called “bent trees”, “marker trees”, or “signal trees”, surviving examples are now two hundred years old or more. Many are dying due to disease, weather, urbanization, and age, giving urgency to a project organized to catalog them before they’re lost forever. Read more